Here’s an article on the kinds of things other than assassination attempts, vandalism, and break-ins that Dr. Tiller and his staff have had to endure for years. It’s about Troy Newman, the head of Operation Rescue (once Operation Rescue West; the group split), who moved to Wichita in order to shut George Tiller’s clinic down:

“There’s only one problem: Tiller is a hard man to find, let alone intimidate. After more than a decade as one of the anti-abortion movement’s favorite targets, he keeps a low profile, drives an armored car and lives in a gated community in a house with a state-of-the-art security system. More pointedly, he has made it clear that he’s not susceptible to scare tactics. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion protester. He returned to work the next day.

Newman is well aware of Tiller’s resilience. That’s why Operation Rescue is going after clinic workers like Sara Phares. The employees have no guards posted at their homes, no cameras monitoring their yards. If Newman can provoke enough of them to quit, his job will be done. He’ll effectively shut Tiller down.”

Here’s how he tries to get them to quit. Sarah Phares is an administrative assistant at the clinic:

“A week later, hundreds of Phares’ neighbors received an anonymous postcard of a mangled fetus. This is abortion! read the big block letters. “Your neighbor Sara Phares participates in killing babies like these.” The postcard implored them to call Phares, whose phone number and address were provided, and voice their opposition to her work at the clinic. Another card soon followed. It referred to Phares as “Miss I Help to Kill Little Babies” and suggested, in an erratic typeface that recalled a kidnapper’s ransom note, that neighbors “beg her to quit, pretty please.” The third postcard dispensed entirely with pleasantries: “Sara Phares is not to be trusted! Tell her to get a life!” (…)

Before long, protesters from Operation Rescue showed up at her house. They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with twenty-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their back yards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares’ front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property. Phares, a small-boned woman with an irreverent sense of humor, joked about the exorcism. “Wish he’d held off on that holy water till after we’d put the fertilizer down,” she said. But her husband wasn’t amused. Since 1994, there have been five assassination attempts on abortion providers at their homes. A few days after the protest, Phares’ husband got out his revolver, loaded it and taught Sara how to use it. (…)

After a brief prayer asking that Phares hear their message of “gentle rebuke,” everyone caravans over to her neighborhood, five cars plastered with bumper stickers condemning abortion and extolling the Ten Commandments. Bringing up the rear is the Truth Truck. For maximum exposure, they stop on a busy street that funnels traffic toward the cul-de-sac where Phares lives. It’s a treeless neighborhood, its fresh brick apartment complexes christened with optimistic names such as Cedar Lakes. The protesters display their signs for passing cars. “Phares’ Choice,” one proclaims, over a picture of tiny, bloody body parts. Another reads, “Sarah Phares, Abortion Profiteer,” misspelling her name and giving her address. The image on Jeff Herzog’s sign is particularly disturbing: a fetus being grabbed by forceps, its mouth open in a Munchian scream.”


“Newman and his small staff of zealous pro-lifers are buzzing with the news that the clinic’s office manager has quit — a result, they believe, of their name-and-shame campaign. The manager had been accosted by a neighbor in a grocery store who recognized her from an Operation Rescue flier that featured her photo. “You’re that baby killer!” the neighbor screamed at her. Then Newman, through investigative methods he’d rather not reveal, discovered where the woman’s husband works. “We think that’s what clinched it,” he says. “He probably realized we were going to picket his workplace. I imagine he’s the major breadwinner in the family, and he didn’t want to risk his job.””

If you read the whole story, you can find out how Newman threatened the Tillers’ dry cleaner and a cab company that sometimes took patients to and from the clinic:

“Newman then tells him, in the most courteous tone imaginable, that he might see a few people outside the company holding signs. Just to let everybody know what he’s participating in. “It’s not personal,” Newman says gently.”

They also go through employees’ trash, and offer rewards for incriminating information. They stop children on sidewalks and tell them their neighbors kill little babies.

Scott Roeder, who seems to be the suspect in Tiller’s murder, posted on Operation Rescue’s website. Operation Rescue has denounced the murder. They write:

“We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller’s family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”

I just thought it would be useful to clarify exactly which “peaceful, legal means” they had used, and what Dr. Tiller and his staff had had to live with.

I am strongly pro-choice, but I think it is perfectly possible to be opposed to abortion on principled grounds, and I think that it would be an enormous mistake to conflate all people who are opposed to abortions with either Dr. Tiller’s killer or the likes of Operation Rescue. That said, large elements of the anti-abortion movement have never done nearly enough to distance themselves from the violent and/or crazy parts of their movement. I hope they start to now.

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